Film features Monty Banks, San Diego & Arizona Railway as runaway train and Pacific Southwest Railway Museum,
Spreckels Organ Pavilion, Balboa Park
San Diego CA— The Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association (PSRM), a San Diego-area historical and educational nonprofit, is partnering with the Spreckels Organ Society for the final concert of its summer-long 2019 San Diego International Organ Festival on Saturday, Aug. 31 at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park. Admission to the concert is free.
Starting at 7:30 p.m. at the open-air Spreckels Organ Pavilion will be a showing of “Chasing Choo Choos,” a 1927 silent movie starring stuntman and comedian Monty Banks. Organist Clark Wilson will discuss and accompany the silent movie on the world-famous Spreckels Organ, considered to be the world’s largest open-air musical instrument.
Roughly seven minutes of the 22-minute “Chasing Choo Choos” silent movie features dramatic runaway train scenes showcasing the San Diego & Arizona Railway (SD&A) locomotive and freight cars with scenes of San Diego’s rural backcountry.
PSRM is currently celebrating a 100-year, centennial anniversary of the SD&A, which was financed by John D. Spreckels and completed in November 1919.
The SD&A was a history changer in the growth of early San Diego. As the final link in the nation’s transcontinental railroad system, the SD&A established a direct rail link from San Diego to the east by connecting with the Southern Pacific Railroad in El Centro. Previously, San Diegans had to travel north to Los Angeles to connect with an east-bound train.
In “Chasing Choo Choos,” a gang of bad guys menace Monty’s girlfriend, played by Virginia Lee Corbin. She hides in a freight car and a misstep sends the otherwise-empty train out of the station with the lever pushed to full speed. As the train gains speed, Monty’s rescue of his girlfriend means that he must board the runaway train, repel the pursuing gang, get his girlfriend out of the boxcar, and somehow get the two of them to safety. Tunnels, a water tower, a steep grade, and a frayed rope complicate the hero’s task. Critics have lauded the 1927 silent movie as featuring some of the best train stunts in the silent movie era. Banks served as executive producer of the short with cinematography by Blake Wagner. Joseph Henabery was the director.
At the Aug. 31 concert, a special PSRM exhibit on the SD&A will be on display, along with information available about PSRM’s centennial anniversary. PSRM is planning a special reenactment ceremony and other family activities to be held Saturday Nov. 16, 2019, at PSRM’s Campo Railroad Park and Museum in Campo, Calif. For more information about the PSRM centennial anniversary of the SD&A, visit www.psrm.org/centennial.
The SD&A rail line, constructed over 12 years at a cost of $18 million, or roughly $123,000 per mile, was called the “Impossible Railroad” by engineers of its day due to the immense logistical challenges. Those construction challenges included extreme terrain requiring 2.5 miles of bridges and trestles and 21 tunnels, including 11 miles through the treacherous Carrizo Gorge, an area where cliffs dropped more than 1,000 feet to the bottom (17 of the 21 tunnels were located in Carrizo Gorge). Additional challenges included floods, landslides, fires, hot weather, deaths from the flu, sabotage by Mexican revolutionaries and various delays caused by World War I.
Stretching 148 miles from San Diego to El Centro, the SD&A includes 44 miles in Mexico. Construction began on Sept. 7, 1907. On Nov. 15, 1919, Spreckels himself drove the final “golden spike.” Parts of the railway are still in use on both sides of the border.
The Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association (PSRM) is a non-profit, all-volunteer educational organization dedicated to preserving the heritage of railroading in the Southwest. PSRM operates the 140-acre Campo Railroad Park and Museum in Campo, Calif., where every weekend the public can enjoy vintage train rides aboard full-size, restored locomotives and railcars from the early 20th century, along with the Southwest Railway Library and more than 120 pieces of historical railroad equipment and artifacts on display. For more information on PSRM, visit www.psrm.org.